preparing for easter

newspaperReading the national and international news has been somewhat of a hobby of mine for a number of years. I’ve always enjoyed being ‘in the know’ with world events. But over the past few years, a pattern in the news has become readily apparent to me. That pattern is that I’m not actually reading ‘news’. Instead, I’m clicking on images with short pieces of information that are written in such a way to get me excited or angry about something. In fact, I can probably summarize the news for the next year or more in just a few sentences. Are you ready? OK, here it goes…

Politicians don’t get along. Most media outlets won’t cover real atrocities occurring internationally, because if they did, Washington politicians would have to find a way to get along and do something about it. But they don’t. And probably won’t anytime soon.

That’s it. That, right there, is a summary of what you’ll watch and read about in the news for the next year or more. It’ll continue to be called ‘news’ but there’s little actual information available. But information will be shared to get you excited or angry about something. Something that, in reality, you have little control over. Something that may have little to do with how well you’re able to grow in loving God and loving others.

Where was I going with this? Oh, right…

This week I would like to propose a news challenge for you. It’s one I really hope you take me up on.

This week, use all the time you would normally take watching or reading the news, and instead, take the opportunity to read through the Gospel of John. And don’t just read through it, but take note as to how many times the word believe (or believes, belief, etc.) are used. And yes, I’m serious. Do your best to keep track of exactly how many times it’s used.

“Why should I do that,” you ask?

Well, because the Gospel of John talks about the significance of belief more than any other book in the Scriptures. In fact, John writes about the importance of believing in God/Jesus more than the other 3 Gospels combined. Reading the Gospel of John will help you to question, and at the same time, affirm what you really believe.

IMG_0034Not only that, but this upcoming Sunday is Easter Sunday. And Easter is THE news story that never goes away. Nearly 2,000 years ago, something happened that’s still being talked about today. People have been imprisoned for sharing it. Others beaten. Some have been beheaded or even crucified upside-down for sharing this news.

It’s the Good News that Jesus came to us as God in the Flesh. He lived the life we should have lived. Died the death we should have died. Yet rose from the grave, defeating sin and death so that we can know God on a deep, personal level.

And reading through the Gospel of John is one, simple way you can prepare for Easter. You can read it so that you’re better prepared to worship Him for what He’s done. And maybe you’ll even have the opportunity to share this news with others.

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Other than reading through the Gospel of John, what’s one thing you will do this week to prepare for Easter?

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the pursuit

A few months ago, I took the opportunity to begin reading through Timothy Keller’s book on the subject of prayer. It may seem strange, but as a pastor I’m sorry to say that the area of regular, consistent prayer is one of godly disciplines in which I lack.

As I began reading Keller’s book, however, I discovered that I’m not alone. He shared that even as a pastor, he struggled in this area for many years as well. And one of the things he did to begin praying more regularly was to summarize each of the Psalms (yes, all 150 of them!) into a short sentence or two. This then gave him the opportunity to go through each of his notes so that he could pray through the Psalms consistently.

I figured, why not. I’ll give that a try as well.

So every few days I’ve read a Psalm or two, summarized the principle being taught in my own words, and then written out a prayer.

Some examples so far include:

Psalm 1 – Those who delight in God’s word experience joy; those who do not experience condemnation and judgment.

Psalm 6 – No matter how hard the circumstances, we can remain confident that God hears our prayers.

Psalm 12 – The Lord’s promises are purer than pure; He protects the oppressed.

Psalm 19 – God’s wisdom is found all around us. In nature. In His word. In my life. In the lives of others.

All of these truths are great reminders.

But today I read Psalm 23. It’s perhaps one of the most well-known Psalms within our culture. It reads:

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
4 Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the LORD
forever.

Sound familiar?

As I read through it, however, one verse stuck out more than the others. It was verse 6. Take a brief opportunity to read through it again, but slowly.

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life.”

As I began to think through the implications of this passage, I felt compelled to do a bit more research. And it wasn’t long before I learned that the Hebrew word translated, ‘pursuit’, is only used in this context one time in the entirety of the Old Testament. In every other occurrence it’s used in the context of hostile enemies pursuing another in battle. But only here is it used with God’s goodness and faithfulness doing the pursuing.

David – despite sometimes questioning whether or not God heard his prayers, despite sometimes wondering why He couldn’t sense the presence of God in his life, despite sometimes responding to life circumstances in the worst possible way – he still somehow knew that God was pursuing him. David knew what it was like to pursue others in battle, and he knew what it was like to be pursued. And somewhere deep inside, God reminded David that He was pursuing him, relentlessly, with the most profound goodness and love.

Today, you may be wrestling through some of the same thoughts David wrestled with. You may be questioning whether God is hearing your prayers. You may be wondering why you sometimes can’t sense of the presence of God in your life. You may be responding to some of life’s circumstances in the worst possible way.

But, may you be reminded that God is pursuing you. He’s relentlessly pursuing you with His goodness and unfailing love. You may think you’re not worthy of it. (And oh, by the way, you’re not.) You may think you don’t deserve it. (And oh, by the way, you don’t.) But He’s pursuing you nevertheless.

How will you respond to His pursuit?